UPDATED: January 31, 2021 23:08 IST
“Russia without Putin!”
“Putin is a thief”
“Give back our money!”
Chanting slogans, dancing and singing to protest songs, holding placards and banners, thousands of people hit icy streets across Russia to take part in the anti-government protests.
The massive anti-government protests, challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin, was organised to demand the release of detained opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Navalny, a staunch critic of Putin, was detained following his dramatic January return to Moscow from Germany after he survived a nerve-agent poisoning attempt, which he blames on the Kremlin.
Over 4,000 people have been detained across the 11-time zone country for taking part in the fresh anti-government protests. Many also marched towards the Matrosskaya Tishina prison in Moscow where Navalvy is being held as law enforcement authorities tried to disperse the crowd.
At least 300 people have been detained in Moscow including Nalavny’s wife Yulia Navalny for taking part in the unauthorised protests. In Russia, the law requires one to obtain permission from law enforcement authorities at least 10 days in advance for holding any protest.
According to a report by Russia Today, footage of the detention available on social media shows several police officers placing Yulia into a van and driving away, as supporters chanted her name. However, Yulia was freed hours after being held as the crowd in that area was dispersed by riot police.
Navalvy’s wife at the centre of anti-Putin protest
Hours after her release, Yulia took to Instagram to post a picture of herself taking part in the anti-Putin protest in Sokolniki.
“It’s great in Sokolniki today!,” Yulia said in the post.
In another post, Yulia shared a picture of her family along with her husband Navalny and urged supporters to take part in the rallies, saying, “If we are silent, then tomorrow they will come for any of us”.
“This is my family. The two honest young men in this picture are demonstratively arrested without any semblance of law. One for the fact that they tried to poison him, and he dared to survive. The second was taken hostage because he has the same surname – Navalny. If we are silent, then tomorrow they will come for any of us. In a 16-storey bunker with an aquadiskoteka, a random frightened person decides our fate – he will jail someone, and poison someone. It doesn’t have to be that way. And it won’t,” Yulia said in an emotional post.
What do anti-Putin rallies mean and why are they happening now?
Thousands marched across cities and towns in Russia on Sunday as they raised slogans like “freedom” and “Release Navalny” and held up the Russian flag even as the authorities warned against the demonstrations. The raging protests backed the release of Alexei Navalny, who was remanded in custody for 30 days on January 18 for parole violations.
Navalny was arrested hours after flying back to Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning last August. After Navalny’s arrest, thousands of people joined unsanctioned protests across Russia last Saturday to demand his release from jail.
Yulia, a 40-year-old protester in Moscow, told Reuters that she had joined the rallies despite suffering a panic attack the night before because of worrying about the repercussions.
“I understand that I live in a totally lawless state. In a police state, with no independent courts. In a country ruled by corruption. I would like to live differently,” Yulia said.
Hours after his arrest, Navalny and his anti-corruption foundation released a video on YouTube, alleging that an opulent mansion on the Black Sea belonged to President Putin. The video exposes, where Navalvy as appears, claimed that the property worth $1.4 billion has been built for Putin through an elaborate corruption scheme and it has been paid “with the largest bribe in history”.
Putin, however, has denied ownership of the palace. Meanwhile, Russian businessman Arkady Rotenberg said he owns the huge palace linked to Putin and had bought the mansion two years ago.
For the past decade, Alexei Navalny, the 44-year-old anti-corruption activist, has been the most vocal critic of Russia’s government and President Vladimir Putin. He has dubbed the ruling United Russia party as the “party of crooks and thieves” – a common coinage among his supporters.
Putin, on the other hand, never calls Navalny by name, and state-run media depict him as an unimportant blogger. Earlier when Navalny blamed Putin for the assassination attempt on him, the Russian president dismissed the claim as a smear. “If someone had wanted to poison him, they would have finished him off,” Putin said.
Many in Russia blame the decline in income levels and the ongoing economic stagnation for the rise in anti-government voices in the country. Several also criticised the Russian government for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The unprecedented rallies and Navalvy, many believe, may act as a catalyst for the beginning of the end of Putin’s rule in Russia. However, many say this may hardly bring any consequential change in Russia’s political landscape even though the Putin-led government may have been caught in a rock and hard place for now with the return of Alexei Navalny and protests raging across the country.